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The perpetual victims and the momentum of victimization
Persecution of the "Bad Classes" during the Cultural Revolution
Gong Xiaoxia, Ph.D.
11/21/2003

Thirty years after its inauguration, and two decades after its officially-declared ending, almost nothing about the Cultural Revolution can be agreed upon among Chinese. People from different social groups present different pictures of the events, describing varying motivations for participation, their own as well as those of others, and pointing to different party leaders or social groups allegedly responsible for the catastrophe. Nevertheless, there is overwhelming agreement that an unprecedented percentage of the entire population, compared with previous political movements in the history of the People's Republic of China which aimed at persecuting alleged "enemies," had been victimized. The victims of the Cultural Revolution cut across all social groups: the political under-class and upper-class, workers, peasants, intellectuals, cadres, and students, etc. Though the actual number of victims, especially those who lost their lives, may never be officially released, the Communist Party has admitted that the figure might possibly reach into the millions.
It may not be too far from the truth to say that during the Cultural Revolution everyone, at one time or another, was a victim. However, certain social groups remained victims throughout the entire period, and these social groups at one time or another were persecuted by almost every group or organization active on the political arena. In this paper, I will focus on the victimization of these perpetual victims of the Cultural Revolution, namely, the politically under-privileged "bad classes," so-named by the "class-labeling system" of the communist authorities.
The "class-labeling system" was originally derived from the efforts of Communists in the 1930s to identify the "exploiting classes" who were to be deprived of their property. The "bad classes" referred only to landlords and rich peasants in the rural areas. After the communist takeover in the late 1940s, "class-labeling" became official policy. People were labeled based on their "class origins," regardless of their current occupations. The "exploiting classes" were considered "bad," together with those accused of being "counter-revolutionary," for various reasons, e.g. former high-ranking officers in the Nationalist Army, former Nationalist agents, etc. Therefore, the basis of the term "class" shifted from Marxist economics to politics and ideology, and "class-labels" referred mainly to political status rather than economic conditions. From time to time, victims of political persecution were labeled as "bad," regardless of their actual occupations and economic standing. On the eve of the Cultural Revolution, the officially recognized "bad classes" included the following "five black categories": former landlords and rich peasants, alleged "counter-revolutionaries" who were the primary victims of political persecution, "bad elements" indicating convicted criminals, and those labeled "rightists" during the 1957 "Anti-Rightist" campaign. Other "exploiting classes," such as former capitalists and others from wealthy backgrounds, were also labeled as "bad." These so-called "bad classes" were not only perpetual victims during the Cultural Revolution, but, in fact, during the entire Mao era as well. In government propaganda, this group was described as evil, immoral, and corrupt. They were everything decent human beings aimed not to be, and they were responsible for all the unhappiness in society. Citizens from the "bad classes" were discriminated against and deprived of their basic human rights. They were the targets of all the political campaigns. The authorities encouraged others to attack them and such attacks became measures of allegiance to the regime. Moreover, "class origins" in official social mobilization policy referred also to the target's family members. Prior to the reform era, the group was routinely persecuted and this persecution escalated periodically. The Cultural Revolution was one such period of intensified persecution of members of the "bad classes," and their families.
There were two primary waves of victimization of the "bad classes" during the Cultural Revolution. Both were initiated due to the political needs of the central and local state authorities. Based mainly on official publications from China, I will describe these two waves: The "Red Terror" in the urban areas during August and September 1966, and the pogroms in the rural areas in 1967 and 1968.
1. The "Red Terror" in the Urban Areas
The first wave of victimization of the "bad classes" was a by-product of the large-scale mass mobilization. In late May, 1966, responding to Mao's call to intensify "class struggle," a group of militant middle school students organized themselves to "firmly defend the red regime" against sabotage by class enemies. They called themselves "Red Guards." In mid-August, 1966, three months after the official inauguration of the Cultural Revolution, Mao and his associates aimed to accelerate the mass mobilization by recognizing such spontaneous militant mass organizations and by sanctioning Red Guard hooliganism. Therefore, a national campaign to "Smash the Four Olds" was launched, triggering a campaign of massive persecution of the "bad classes" in the urban areas. This later campaign was accurately called by the Red Guards themselves as the "Red Terror" (hongse kongbu).
On August 18, in a huge rally on Tiananmen Square which was attended by Mao and most top government and party leaders, and with the participation of approximately one million people, Mao's deputy Lin Biao urged civilians to "smash old customs, old habits, old culture, and old thinking of the exploiting classes." On the next day, hundreds of thousands of Red Guards rushed onto the streets of Beijing, smashing everything they believed to be representative of these "four olds." The Red Guards tore down the signs with the names of the streets, shops, restaurants, hospitals, schools, etc., and gave them new names with "revolutionary significance." For instance, Xiehe Hospital, established by American missionaries in the 1920s, became "Anti-Imperialist Hospital," and Yangwei Road, the location of the Soviet Embassy, became "Anti-Revisionist Road." Their most outrageous action involved the changing of "green" and "red" traffic lights. The Red Guards argued that red, normally signifying revolution, could no longer indicate "stop." As a result, traffic was chaotic, and the transportation bureau had no choice but to revert the signals back to their original meaning. Other activities to "smash the Four Olds" were perhaps less amusing, but more tragic. The Red Guards ransacked libraries, archives, museums, temples, etc. Books were burned, paintings desecrated, sculptures destroyed, and temples smashed and the monks expelled. They also raided the homes of families whom they suspected of possessing some such "Four Olds." They patrolled the streets and assaulted pedestrians, cutting long or permed hair, and tearing off fashionable clothing. Beauty salons and tailor shops were forced to close. The "Smash the Four Olds" campaign affected the whole country within a very short period of time, dragging the entire nation into this revolutionary hysteria. Such Red Guard activities were highly praised by the authorities. After August 22, the communist propaganda machine, led by the People's Daily, churned out daily reports which praised the campaign in considerable length.
Human catastrophe accompanied the destruction of culture and property. The "bad classes," who were blamed for the "Four Olds," and who were, by definition, the political under-classes, became the immediate targets of the Red Guard hooliganism, which soon escalated into massive violence. The Red Guard violence mainly took three forms: the ransacking of houses, physical violence, and expulsion from the urban areas.
(1) House ransacking
The Red Guards began to ransack houses (chaojia) in order to "smash the Four Olds" and to "suppress the enemies." They raided the homes of members of the "bad classes," taking everything they believed to be representative of the "Four Olds." They confiscated such things as gold, silver, jewelry, cash, foreign currency, religious items, paintings, books, certificates from the KMT government, etc.
A typical such ransacking involved cooperation between the grass-roots organization of the state political control, the neighborhood committees (jumin weiyuanhui), and the Red Guards. Usually, the former supplied detailed information about the "bad classes" in their neighborhoods, who had been under constant intensive surveillance during the communist rule. One Red Guard member recorded the details about a house search in which he participated.
One day, I was on duty in the afternoon when some information was delivered. It reported that the revolutionary masses in a neighborhood committee had disclosed a former KMT lieutenant general who had hidden some reactionary documents and "files for the return of the old society." Members of in the neighborhood committee volunteered to take us to search the house.... I immediately led a dozen Red Guards to ransack the house.... We had a big harvest that day. In the old man's room, we found a property deed, a KMT certificate, silver, and gold.... We delivered these items to the neighborhood police station. Even before we added our booty, the station was already filled with items from other ransacked houses. It looked like a bargain store, or a jewelry shop.
During the nationwide wave of house-ransacking, members of the "bad classes" were robbed of their private property. According to statistics of the Beijing municipal authorities, in the capital city of Beijing alone, in August and September, 33,695 households were ransacked by the Red Guards. In all, the Red Guards confiscated 268 guns, 11,056 bullets, 103,131 liang of gold, 345,212 liang of silver, 55,459,919 yuan in cash, and 613,618 precious antiques.
(2) Physical violence
The most terrifying episodes of the "Red Terror" were the torture and murder of members of the "bad classes" by Red Guards and other "revolutionary" mass organizations. Physical violence began on the school campuses as early as June 1966. Nationwide, teachers who were accused of being members of the "bad classes" were humiliated, tortured, and some were even murdered. With the escalation of the "Smash the Four Olds" campaign, physical violence spread to outside the school campuses. Members of the "bad classes" were violently attacked on the streets or in their neighborhoods. A member of the Red Guards at the No. 8 High-School recalled witnessing the following murder. The victim was an alleged "bad element" nicknamed "Xishan Laoda":
A group of Red Guards from the junior high school pushed Xishan Laoda down the corridor, while another group held wooden guns behind him -- these guns had once been used for our military training. They were aimed at Xishan Laoda's back. Then the following command was issued:
"Lift -- hit!"
"Bang!" Xishan Laoda was hit hard and he collapsed. His head struck the brick floor and was cut by a stone, leaving him with a half-inch wound. Blood dripped onto his face.
"Get up! Up!," the Red Guards shouted.
When Xishan Laoda stood up, the command was issued again.
"Lift -- hit!"
"Bang!" The sound of a heavy fall echoed in the corridor.
"Put him up!"
"Lift -- hit!"
"Bang!" Another sound of heavy falling...
Xishan Laoda was killed by those wooden guns. Not yet satisfied, one boy stabbed his already scarred stomach with a knife.
The death of this Xishan Laoda was nothing. After a simple phone call, the cremation service sent their people to take the body away. So far, no one has ever asked about him.
Such violent activities became daily occurrences in Chinese cities during the "Red Terror." According to official statistics, during the forty days from late August to late September over 1,700 people who were labeled as members of the "bad classes" were murdered in Beijing alone.
During the climax of this "Red Terror," violence spread from city streets to rural suburban areas. The Red Guards in Beijing entered a suburban county, Daxing, in late August with a plan to execute two or three people in each village. But the violence rapidly escalated. With the help of local cadres, Daxing County turned into an immense killing field. From August 27 to September 1, within a period of only six days, 325 "bad classes" and their family members were murdered in the county. The oldest victim was eighty-years old, and the youngest was only thirty-eight days. Twenty-two families were totally wiped out. Similar bloodshed also occurred in other provinces.
(3) Expulsion from the urban areas
A "Final Solution" to eliminate the "bad classes" from the urban areas was initiated during the "Red Terror." This involved depriving "bad classes" families their urban residences and forcing them to move to the poor countryside. The loss of the right to live in the urban areas meant the loss of those privileges which are enjoyed by the urban population in China, including grain and other food rations, government subsidized housing, etc. This rustication campaign began with an "announcement" issued by the Red Guards at the No. 4 Boys' High School in Beijing on August 24. It declared:
(1) Before September 10, 1966, all landlords, rich peasants, counterrevolutionaries, and bad elements who have sneaked into Beijing must get out of the city and go back to their home villages to reform through physical labor. No one should complain or resist. If you do so, you will be suppressed immediately.
(2) All police stations must publicize the names of the landlords, rich peasants, counter-revolutionaries, and bad elements on wall posters, in order to help the masses in their surveillance.
(3) If any of these people refuse to leave, their homes will be sealed as soon as such delays are exposed. The local police stations are responsible for escorting them back to their home villages. September 30 is an all-city action day, when an overall check will be carried out.
(4) We warn the family members of these bad classes: if you want to join the revolution, you must rebel against your parents and drive them back to their home villages. If you don't take action, you will not be able to stop us when the deadline comes and we take action. We will do everything we believe necessary.
This unofficial order which was thoroughly implemented order marked the beginning of a nationwide campaign to drive hundreds of thousands of people from the urban areas to the rural areas. Many people were accompanied by their spouses and children. By the end of September, 84,000 "bad classes" had been driven out of Beijing. In Nanning, in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, a city remote from and much smaller than Beijing, over 5,000 people were expelled.
In addition to ideological approval and glorification, official tolerance and cooperation in such persecutions were two other means by which the state authorities were able to encourage the persecution of the "bad classes." Xie Fuzhi, the minister of public security, sent a directive to the Beijing Public Security Bureau in August 1966, at the beginning of the escalation of the mass violence: "I can't say I agree with the masses beating people to death. However, if the masses hate the bad people so much that they can't stop the beating, we should not persist in interfering." During the same month, Xie gave a talk at a conference of public security bureau chiefs from several provincial and municipal administrations, including Gansu, Shanxi, Hubei, and Beijing. He said: "Should the Red Guards who beat people to death be imprisoned? In my opinion, it is no big deal, and we should not pay attention to it.... If you arrest those who beat people, you will be making a mistake."
Meanwhile, the army and the police forces received strict orders not to stop or suppress the mass violence. On August 22, 1966, the Ministry of Public Security issued the following "Directives to Strictly Forbid the Use of Police Force in the Suppression of the Revolutionary Student Movement":
(1) It is prohibited to use police force to interfere with or suppress the revolutionary student movement under any circumstances. (2) It is strictly prohibited to fire at, or fire to the sky to intimidate, the revolutionary teachers and students. (3) There are to be no arrests during the movement, except for those of confirmed counterrevolutionaries who have committed crimes such as murder, arson, poison, sabotage, the stealing of state secrets, etc. (4) Police forces are not allowed into the schools. (5) Police duty involves only maintaining order on the streets. If violent conflicts occur, the on-duty police can stop them by peaceful means. In the case of revolutionary students beating the police, the latter are not allowed to fight back."
The military had received similar directives one day earlier. These orders, by forbidding state intervention, gave the green light for violent activities. Furthermore, the neighborhood police stations (paichusuo) and the residents committees (juweihui) assisted the Red Guards by providing them with name-lists of members of the "bad classes" in their locales, identifying such people and their family members, and supplying information about their property and activities. In the above speech, Xie Fuzhi told the entire public security system that "The police force should side with the Red Guards, make contacts with them, cultivate good feelings toward them, provide them with information, and indicate to them the 'five bad categories'." With support from the urban grassroots administrative and public security units, few members of the "bad classes" were able to escape the severe persecution during this "Red Terror."
2. The Pogroms in the Rural Areas
The Cultural Revolution in the rural areas is one of the least examined topics in studies of contemporary China. Despite their differing foci, most scholars agree that the Cultural Revolution mainly affected the urban areas: while the cities were caught up in a frenzy of violent factional struggles, house ransacking, rebellions, and purges, the rural parts of the country remained calm and under the control of the party system. This has been documented by various reports from the rural areas.
However, the firm party control in some of the rural areas resulted in other types of disturbances. In 1967 and 1968, when the party authorities in the urban areas were attacked by rebel forces supported by the Mao clique to conduct political purges, many of these authorities were able to manipulate the party organizations in the countryside to mobilize rural peasants to fight against the urban rebels. Apparently, the killing of rebels could not be justified and legalized even during periods of chaos. Therefore, the mass organizations endorsed by local party leaders accused the rebels of being supported by the "bad classes" in their attack on the party leadership. They urged the peasants to eliminate both the rebels and their "back-stage" bosses. In other words, the local authorities encouraged the persecution of the "bad classes," who were perpetual victims of the system, in order to provide a cover-up for the slaughter of the rebels. Members of the "bad classes" and their family members in the countryside, whose numbers had swollen as many had been expelled from the cities in the early stages of the Cultural Revolution, were in great jeopardy. They were unorganized, unarmed, defenseless, and isolated, and had no place to which to flee. During the peak of the factional fighting in the urban areas from 1967 and 1968, there were many pogroms to slaughter members of the "bad classes" in the rural areas. I have been able to gather considerable evidence from Chinese official publications which document such pogroms in two regions: Dao County of Hunan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
(1) Pogroms in Dao County of Hunan Province
Dao County is located in the remote western part of Hunan. The pogrom occurred in August and September, 1967, the result of an intensive and violent power struggle between the "honglian" mass organization which supported the county party leader Xiong Bing'en and a second organization, "Gelian," which challenged Xiong's power and which was associated with a famous rebel organization, the "Xiangjiang Fenglei," in the provincial capital of Changsha. On August 8, 1967, "Gelian" stole a great deal of ammunition from the county military department and set up a headquarters in the No. 2 High School, from which they made daily broadcasts about the "crimes committed by Xiong Bing'en." Xiong called on the militia forces in all the communes of the county and established his own headquarters for battle. At a mobilization rally he said: "We should make up for the lesson we missed during the democratic revolution by killing [the bad classes]. Now, the landlords, the rich peasants, the counterrevolutionaries, the rightists, the bad elements, and people belonging to the other twenty-one bad categories are actively attacking the newborn revolutionary regime. If we hesitate, we Communists will be slaughtered, just like what occurred forty years ago in Wuhan and Changsha when the Communists were massacred by the Nationalist reactionaries. If you don't kill him, he will kill you.... In the rural areas, executions can be approved of by meetings of poor and lower-middle peasants." The "Honglian" organization began to spread rumors that the "Gelian" planned to "eliminate all party members and poor peasants, to kill half of the middle peasants, and to give food to landlords, rich peasants, counterrevolutionaries, and bad elements."
Such rumors produced an overall frenzy in the rural areas during the summer of 1967. With support from the county party leader Xiong, the rural party branches established the illegal "Poor and Lower-Middle Peasant Supreme Court" at commune or brigade levels to carry out the persecution of the "bad classes." The commune- or brigade-level cadres ordered the local militia to capture members of the "bad classes" and their families. They were then sentenced to death by these "courts" and executed in extremely savage ways. The victims included not only adults, but also children and infants. Many families were totally eliminated. The following is one of dozens terrifying stories from Dao County.
That afternoon, several dozen peasants from Qiaotou Village were planting sweet potatoes in the valley of Shanmuling, a mountain three li from the village. When the work day came to an end, Zhou, the head of the production team, suddenly blew a whistle and shouted, "Hurry up, everyone!" Immediately, about ten people, following a prearranged plan, sprang upon Zhou Wendong, his wife Chen Lian's, and his son Zhou Hui, who were still working with bent heads. Zhou ordered, "Push them into the cellar!"
Zhou Wendong had passed a test and had entered a cadre school of the 137th Division of the PLA in 1949. After graduation, he had worked in the army for a period of time. Then he was transferred, for health reasons, to be a teacher in Dao County. In 1958, he was labeled a "rightist" for "raising too much criticism." He was fired and sent back to his home village. Now, realizing that death was close at hand, he kneeled down and begged for mercy. It was useless. The frenzied crowd dragged the family to an abandoned cellar and pushed them in. They threw in dry straw which had been hidden in the woods earlier and set it on aflame.... Three people were summarily killed....
The head of the production team was about to let the people go home when it occurred to him that Zhou Wendong still had one other son and daughter. Immediately, he sent two people to the village to fetch the two remaining children....
In Zhou Wendong's house, eight-year-old Zhou Damei was playing with her two-year-old brother. [After the two people brought them to the scene of the execution] the head of the production team viciously threw the boy into the burning cellar. The boy was killed before he even had time to cry. Zhou Damei screamed. Zhou pushed her and she slipped. Zhou pushed her again and again. Finally, the eight-year-old girl with two pigtails was thrown into the cellar....
During the massacre, such savage methods were used to slaughter thousands of people. The leadership even provided material incentives to the peasants who participated in the killings. Killers confessed: "We earn five yuan from the brigade `Supreme Court' for killing one person." According to an official report: "The killings cost 88,234 yuan and 421,095 jin of grain." Later, the military forces of the provincial authorities were called in to stop the insanity in Dao County. Dao was not the only place in Hunan where such pogroms occurred. Similar bloody campaigns were also launched in neighboring counties, including Ningyuan, Jiangyong, Jianghua, Xintian, and Lanshan.
News of the pogroms soon reached the provincial and state authorities. The PLA 6950 Army was sent in to stop the killings, while official orders were issued to party organizations at each level to cease the madness. Some party branches, however, felt so justified in their right to kill "class enemies" that they even refused to stop. Evidence of one such incident can be found in a verdict issued by the Dao County Court in 1986, nineteen years after the slaughter:
Defendant: Liu Daixiu, male, 49, illiterate, Han nationality, resident of Jinshi'an Village of Yangjia Town, Dao County, Chairman of the Poor Peasant Association of Jinshi'an Brigade of Yangjia Commune in 1967....
At noon on August 29, 1967, the defendant discussed the massacre going on in the area with another villager, He, in the latter's house. The defendant suggested they hold a meeting of the standing committee of the party branch to organize a killing. He agreed and held a meeting in his house at which Huang, Xiao, and the other members of the standing committee participated. At the meeting they decided to execute Liu Guangren, Li Chengde, and seven other people. In the evening, the defendant chaired a rally in the brigade hall, announcing the execution of Li Guangren, Li Chengde, and the other seven. During the rally, a member of the brigade, Jiang Changjin, received a call from the commune secretary, ordering him to stop the execution. Jiang passed the message on to the defendant. The defendant ordered Jiang to deceive the commune leadership by reporting that the victims had already been taken out by the militiamen. The defendant said: "I will be responsible for any misexecution." Then he ordered the militiamen to escort the nine victims to the execution ground. On their way, Wei, a member of the brigade, rushed in and passed on a second message from the commune to the defendant ordering him to stop the execution. The defendant insisted on the execution, saying: "I will take full responsibility. If I am sent to jail for this, so be it!" Then he ordered the militiamen to kill the nine victims."
According to statistics compiled by a joint investigation team of the 6950 Army and the local authorities, 1.2 percent of the total population in the county was slaughtered within two months. A recent publication reports: "From August 13 to October 17, 1967, in 66 days, among 1,590 production teams of 468 brigades in 36 communes of 10 districts with 2,778 households, 4,519 people died. Among them, 4,193 were murdered, and 326 committed suicide." The victims overwhelmingly belonged to the political underclass and their families.
(2) Bloodshed in Guangxi
Massacres in Guangxi occurred a month or two later than those in Dao County, but lasted for a longer period of time. Similar to Dao County, but stretching across a much broader geographical range, the regional party leader Wei Guoqing and many of his colleagues in the party, the government, and the military were targeted by the "April 22nd" rebel faction. In order to survive the rebel attack, these leaders gave their support to the opposing faction, the "Lianzhi." Factional fighting soon broke out, as the violence rapidly escalated. After May 1967, with the help of the local party organizations, peasants, especially rural militiamen, were mobilized to participate in the factional fighting. Their mobilization was justified for the same reason as in Dao County: the "bad classes" were behind all the "anti-party" rebel activities. And, like Dao County, the "bad classes" and their families were slaughtered in the name of "defending the revolutionary regime."
According to the official records, pogroms against the "bad classes" began in October 1967, and lasted for an entire year -- until the autumn of 1968. The first recorded killing occurred from October 2 to 4, 1967, in Dongshan Commune of Quanzhou County. The details of the killing have been documented:
In Dongshan Commune of Quanzhou County, militia battalion commander Huang Tianhui consulted with the brigade accountant and the head of the "Lianzhi" faction, and they decided to hold a conference for some thirty militia team leaders and activists. At the conference, Huang told the people about the massacres of the "bad classes" in Dao County of Hunan Province, and suggested, "We must begin now. To take the initiative is to gain the upperhand.... We must destroy both the roots and the branches -- eliminate them all." He announced: "This is top secret. Whoever leaks this information will be treated like a landlord." Finally, they decided to kill the victims by forcing them to jump into a deep cave. Representatives from each village were given the task of capturing the landlords and the rich peasants in their villages. After the conference, Huang Tianhui led the militiamen to capture the people, and sent all those captured to Huangguachong Cave. The victims were forced to jump into the cave. Those who refused to do so were beaten by Huang and then thrown in. Liu Xiangyuan, who was from a landlord family, begged Huang to save one of his two children for his wife, who was from a poor peasant family.... Huang refused. Liu was forced to jump into the cave with his two children in his arms. The elder one was three, the younger one was only one.
In this brigade, seventy-six people were murdered in two days.
Thereafter, the bloody wind of pogroms swept all over rural Guangxi. Organizations such as the "Poor and Lower-Middle Peasant Supreme Court," or similar organizations such as the "Poor and Lower-Middle Peasant Suppressing Counterrevolutionary Committee" and the "Poor and Lower-Middle Peasant Eliminating Counterrevolutionary Committee," prevailed in the rural areas. These so-called "courts" were a means to carry out executions on behalf of the commune or even of the brigade-level authorities. The commune or brigade cadres ordered the local militia to capture people from the "bad classes" and their family members as well as some members of the rebel faction; they were then sentenced to death by the "courts" and executed in extremely savage ways. The victims included not only adults, but also children and infants. Many families were totally eliminated. Such bloody incidents occurred in most counties. For example, in Rong County alone, 69 "bad classes" and members of the rebel faction were murdered in November. In Guiping County, 21 people were executed on December 4.
News of the bloody pogroms in Guangxi was so terrifying that on December 24 the Guangxi regional authorities and the military, although they initially had supported the faction which had initiated the killings, issued a joint emergency order banning such organizations as the "Poor and Lower-Middle Peasant Supreme Court" and forbidding the local organizations from arresting, torturing, or murdering people. However, the authorities did not impose any effective punishment in order to restrain, or to stop, the on-going mass killings in the rural areas. Rather, confronted with the growing protests of the rebels, some leading cadres simply denied that any such killings had occurred.
The killings further escalated when there were new efforts to restore the political system. Since late February 1968, a new power institution, the "revolutionary committee" (geming weiyuan hui), was founded at the county level or above. The military was in charge of these new revolutionary committees, thus allowing the regional authorities, headed by Wei Guoqing, to launch a campaign in April 1968 to "blow a great typhoon over the class enemies." This campaign, with the rebel faction as the main target, escalated the number of ruthless massacres in the rural areas. According to official records, most pogroms occurred between April and October, after the new power institutions at every level had been set up. Although there are no estimates of the overall number of deaths, nor are there very detailed accounts of these pogroms in the official publications, the brief, and certainly incomplete, descriptions in the county annals which were published in the 1980s and 1990s, and in the Chronology of the Cultural Revolution in Guangxi (Guangxi Wenge Dashi Nianbiao) are certainly terrifying:
On August 2, 3, and 7, 1968, massive killings took place in several districts, including Dafeng, Xiangxian, Qiaoxian, and Mushan.
On August 16, 1968, the Revolutionary Committee of Sanli District held a rally "condemning class enemies using explosives against the red regime." Those belonging to the "twenty-three categories," namely, those from bad classes, those having suspicious social connections, those who had made mistakes in their past history, and family members of the above categories of people, were struggled against at the rally. One hundred sixty-seven people were killed.
[In 1968], each commune of Binyang County conducted massive killings. In the eleven days from July 26 to August 6, 3,681 people were murdered. Among the victims, there included 51 state cadres, 87 teachers, 27 workers, 75 collective workers, 3,441 rural residents. One hundred seventy-six families were totally eliminated....
On September 7 [1968], the Lianzhi headquarters in Xiling Region held a "sentencing rally by the Xiling Regional Poor and Lower-Middle Peasant People's Supreme Court." Six people were executed at the site of the rally.
From November 12 to 21, organizations such as the "Poor and Lower-Middle Peasant Supreme Court" and the "Suppressing Counterrevolution Committee" were founded in Muge, Majiang, Huangyao, and many other places. Public sentencing rallies were held, and many people were executed.
The list goes on and on. The merciless and savage pogroms forced some of the survivors to flee to the mountain areas where they became bandits. The most famous case concerns the Wei brothers. Wei Mingle, Wei Mingli, Wei Mingcheng, and their cousin Wei Mingjing escaped to Gaoliu Mountain with several guns that they had seized during the factional fighting. The local authorities forced their father to go to the mountain to try to persuade them to surrender, promising they would not be executed. Seventeen-year-old Wei Mingjing believed the authorities and gave himself up. He was killed the next day. The other Wei brothers stayed in the mountains for fourteen years, while the Guangxi Military Region continued to send in army reinforcements to encircle and suppress them.
According to a report from China, the practice of cannibalism was revived during this period, and many victims were literally eaten. Local official documents include a name-list of sixty-four people who were consumed in Wuxuan County, and a name-list of those who had participated in the cannibalism and were mildly punished, including twenty-seven party member cadres, eighteen non-party cadres, five workers with party membership, twenty-one workers without party membership, and nine peasants with party membership. The standard punishment was expulsion from the party or an official warning. None of these people were sentenced. The total number of people who had participated in the cannibalism, including those who were not punished, was over 400.
The rebel faction estimated that during the massacres launched by such organizations as the "Poor and Lower-Middle Peasant Supreme Court," "from December of last year [1967] to the end of April this year, fifty-six among a total eight-six counties and cities were swept up in the bloody massacres.... About 50,000 members of the 'April 22nd' [faction] were killed by class enemies." Based on statistics scattered in official publications, it is likely that these figures are not exaggerated. Killing was even a criteria for political promotion at the time. According to a partial survey conducted in the 1980s, more than 20,000 people were involved in murders immediately after they were recruited into the party; another 9,000 were recruited simply on the basis of their having been involved in murder; and 17,000 existing party members participated in killings. Thus, it can be estimated that there were 47,000 murders within the party alone.
Based on the evidence from Dao County and from Guangxi, it can be concluded that the pogroms in the rural areas resulted from local factional struggles. Particularly, they were byproducts of efforts by the local authorities to defend their political power by mobilizing the rural militia forces. The local authorities signed the death sentences for members of the "bad classes," claiming they were the "back-stage bosses" of the rebel forces who were trying to overthrow the party leadership. Thus, the local authorities were ultimately responsible for all the fighting, the chaos, and the misery caused by the factional struggles.
These pogroms represent the darkest episodes of the Cultural Revolution, during which the political under-classes were used as scapegoats for the crimes of the political upper-class, and well-organized and fully-armed militia forces slaughtered entirely unorganized and unarmed civilians.
3. Theoretical Reflection
It is an acknowledged fact in China that the Cultural Revolution was an era of massive victimization. It has also been repeatedly affirmed that the political terror during the Cultural Revolution was caused by political anarchy, or as the Chinese official party line refers to it, the "ten-years of turbulence." The official line particularly stresses the victimization of party cadres and government officials, who are now officially recognized as the main victims of the Cultural Revolution and who now have been fully exonerated.
Based on evidence primarily from official publications in China, this paper presents accounts of cases of victimization which have been neglected, intentionally or unintentionally, by the Chinese official line. These accounts show that the political under-classes were the perpetual victims of the Cultural Revolution, and they were persecuted by the most horrific means in both the urban and rural areas. During these procedures, hundreds of thousands of lives were taken.
Such senseless human cruelty is hard for us to comprehend, much less to explain. Why was the hatred against the "bad classes" so prevalent even when they represented little or no danger to the society? Why were these people so persecuted when they, at least the majority of them, were not in any way a threat to the communist state, to Mao, or to the "revolutionary masses"? Similar questions have also been raised for other situations: for example, why were the Jews slaughtered under the Nazis? Why were alleged "enemy agents" jailed and executed by the millions in the Soviet Union under Stalin? Why the genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda?
Scholars of the Soviet Union have tried to explain Stalin's Great Purge, which shares a similar political environment to that of the long-term persecution of the 'bad classes" in China. From a functionalist point of view, many believe that terror "serves many of the 'rational' purposes of the totalitarian regime," such as "the establishment of the infallibility of the party, its summit and its doctrine; the maintenance of the party in a 'state of grace'...; the maintenance of the priority of heavy industry, of forced savings for capital investment, of unquestioned command and relative efficiency in production, of collectivization in agriculture, of control in culture and a number of similar objectives of the totalistic state." Terror, such scholars argue, was a key factor in the success of the so-called "mobilization stage" of the communist state by ensuring compliant behavior to mobilize the otherwise defiant population. By designating scapegoats for the failures of the state, and by setting up "negative loyalty indicators," the state gained total control over the society. However, the scope and the methods of such persecution reached far beyond that of pure necessity. Moreover, there is no absolute evidence to indicate that without the excessive human toll, such as that during the Great Purge and the Cultural Revolution, the communist party-state would not have been able to hold on to its power and to achieve its social and economic plans. On the contrary, historical records in both China and the Soviet Union show that the less intense the persecution, the better the overall hold of the state. In fact, the aggravated persecution resulted in political and social disturbance, as well as economic decline, as the Cultural Revolution shown. Even the Chinese government has admitted, after the Cultural Revolution, that the massive persecution was one of the most counter-productive factors during those years.
There have also been various attempts to analyze the collective emotions which may have contributed to these human tragedies. In his study of the holocaust, Goldhagen points out that the German people, because of their traditional resentment and discrimination against Jews, became Hitler's "willing executioners" in the slaughter. Pye, in his study of modern Chinese politics, concludes that "the dominant emotion of modern Chinese politics has been a preoccupation with hatred coupled with an enthusiasm for singling out enemies." More importantly, in modern China, "hate and hostility are not only more openly acknowledged but they are extolled as positive virtues of the political activist." Yet, these theories leave us to wonder about how the relatively long-term factor of collective emotion, namely, hatred and discrimination against certain social groups, is transformed into relatively short-term actions such as massive intensified persecution and massacre. In other words, people normally do not kill their neighbors or strangers, despite whatever resentment they may have, unless they have specific personal reasons or unless there are some dramatic sudden changes in the political atmosphere. What inflames the extreme negative feelings of the human heart which lead to collective hysteria remains unclear.
The massive victimization during the Cultural Revolution, like other large-scale organizational persecutions such as the Great Purge and the Holocaust, shares a totalistic ideology and politics coupled with a "class-labeling" system which induced legitimized hatred, prestige, and constant persecution against certain social groups. It differs, however, from the latter in one crucial aspect of the political chaos with respect to the involvement of violent factional struggles at national and regional levels. The coexistence of these two seemingly conflicting factors, namely, dictatorship and anarchy, has been frequently referred to, but not yet systematically analyzed. Nonetheless, the history of the massive persecution against the "bad classes" during the Cultural Revolution suggests that both factors contributed to the creation of the tragedy. The "bad classes," who were designated enemies by the system, were persecuted to satisfy political and social needs. They were used as human sacrifices by the party leaders to mobilize the masses, and as scapegoats for the political chaos created by the "revolution." Persecution of the "bad classes," in turn, became a means for the movement participants to show their political privileges and to demonstrate their militancy, and a convenient strategy for the local party leaders to cover up for the bloodshed in the power struggles. The scale of arbitrariness and brutality of such persecutions escalated rapidly when power and factional conflicts intensified, devouring hundreds of thousands of innocent lives.

Gong Xiaoxia, Ph.D., is a graduate of Beijing University and Harvard University.


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